Filmmaking and photography are very alike but at the same time, they are poles apart. For example, both of these art forms employ a camera to record stories, the difference is a photograph freezes the moment and lets the people make their own stories but a movie is a story which the scriptwriter and director want you to see. I hope you see the difference. Like photography, videography is equally demanding. One of the essential equipment is a good heavy video tripod because, in comparison to DSLRs, camcorders are quite heavy.
Video making requires a lot of manpower, time, money and proper equipment. So in this post, I’ll be talking about the best video tripods out there in the market and how do they compare with each other.
What is Different in Video Tripods?
Video tripods have some noticeable features which set them apart from the normal photographic tripods. As you can see in the image, the most prominent of those are the legs. The legs are stronger and bulkier. This is because these tripods are made to support heavy camcorders and are based on the assumption that the camera attached will not be fixed. The tilt and pan operation of the attached fluid head shifts the center of gravity for which heavy legs are a must. The heavy frame makes sure that the setup does not topple over. It would be a mistake to use a photographic tripod (with fluid heads) and a camcorder as these things are not made to use with light legs. As the DSLRs get lighter and lighter, the tripods will do too. The camcorder, on the other hand, remains to be heavy. Another major difference is the type of head employed. Unlike photography where you can use multiple heads like ball, gimbal, pistol grip among more. Filmmaking largely makes use of a fluid head. You can purchase the head and legs separately but I wouldn’t recommend doing that if you are a starter. Buy the system in one go and get started with the shooting. One thing which you must know is that these tripods are considerably more expensive as compared to their counterparts.
Some Good Ones…
Choosing the good video tripod is a crucial task for any videographer and thankfully there are tons and tons of options out there from ultra-low budget to high-end professional grade tripods. Having a good video tripod does make a difference and if you don’t own one you better get one now because your work demands nothing but the best. Let’s look at some of the best video tripods.
VELBON VIDEOMATE 638 – The Cheapest of the Lot
It is a great option for beginners owing to its cost/value ratio. For around $100, you have a fully functional video tripod that is sufficiently capable of handling about 8.8lbs (4kg) it is perfect for beginner level camcorders. It is made out of aluminum and reaches a max height of 5.6′. Like other expensive video tripods, the Videomate comes with a leg separator. This allows you to separate your legs and lock’em in place. It is a two section tripod and comes with a fluid head attached. Though the fluid head stands nowhere when compared to the more expensive ones like the Manfrotto 502, it gets the job done. I would recommend it to all the starters out there. Gradually as you will make progress, it will be more like a backup option rather than your main gear.
MID-RANGE / SEMI – PROFESSIONAL LEVEL
If you have some experience in filmmaking and are looking for something decent, chances are you already have bought your first video tripod. Consider the Manfrotto 546 GBK system as an upgrade. The tripod has a twin leg framework and is usually combined with the 504HD fluid head. The tripod is made of aluminum and supports a dozen kilos. This tripod has a 75mm bowl leveler so that even if you are on an uneven surface you have that perfect horizontal level. The separator is attached to the feet and is variable in length. The max height is well over 5 feet. The 504HD fluid head is one of the best fluid heads in the market as it is one of the few heads that actually contains fluid cartridges. The tripod itself is quite bulky and not at all ergonomic but in terms of stability, it is unmatched at this price point. Also, it comes with the Manfrotto’s standard QR plate system which is now widely used by manufacturers.
THE SACHTLER – For the Pros
What Gitzo is to photography, Sachtler is to videography. Probably everyone attached to filmmaking has had a desire of owning a Sachtler. Recently, they have released a tripod with the most innovative design in the history of tripods. The Satchler Flowtech 75 MS Carbon Fiber. Its unique design allows it to spread easily without opening or closing the locks. The unique brakes near the bowl leveler allow you to deploy the tripod almost instantly. The tripod extends up to a maximum height of just about 5 feet and can impressively hold up to 20kgs of weight. The feet are made of rubber and you can almost change them to spikes with a lever. It is incredibly easy to use and save a lot of time and struggle. It can go to ground level again with a simple clamp. The mid-level spreader does not come in handy when out in the field but if you want to use a heavy setup, it’s better to attach it. The biggest asset is its simplicity and durability. The deployment system is as reliable as it is fast. Another small thing which I believe is a plus is that the legs have these little magnets which stick the legs together when you fold them, this way the legs are don’t move when you fold them. Pair it with any of the Sachtler’s fluid heads like their FSB 6T and you are good to go for many years to come.
How to Choose One for Yourself?
Well, this part is an interesting one. For this, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions like-
- How committed are you towards videography/filmmaking?
- What’s your niche?
- How much are you willing to spend?
If you answer these five questions, finding a tripod that suits your needs won’t be a problem. Let’s tackle the questions one by one.
If you are really serious and want to build a career in videography I wouldn’t suggest going in for cheap tripods like the Velbon. Buy one good tripod and use it for years to improve your skills over the years instead of changing your tripods over time. But if you are unsure of what you wanna do and just need something to get started with, Velbon is an excellent choice.
Next up, What’s your niche? Are you going to shoot videos in the wild or in places with action, then a tripod with spikes, hooks, counterbalance and a heavy set of legs is what you need. Make sure that the spreader can be adjusted individually so that you can place your tripods on uneven surfaces (like stairs or parapets).
The budget tripod is not necessarily a useless one, in fact in many cases it acts as a backup option. These tripods aren’t cheap especially the pro level ones. The most expensive one which I came across was the OConner Ultimate 2575D priced at a whopping $19K!. But you will hardly see any individual using it. Again, it all depends on your niche and commitment. Go for a Sachtler if you feel the need to upgrade to a pro level one or if you are a starter and want to get yourself something premium. If not, the Manfrotto 546GBK will do the job.
Fluid Heads – The Most Important Piece
Fluid heads are the most important part of a video tripod are there are hundreds of them. I won’t be able to cover everything about fluid heads in this post so I’ll write a separate one explaining it in a lot more detail. Fluid heads are used to pan the camera horizontally and vertically. The reason they are so popular in the world of filmmaking is that they enable one to shoot smooth and stable clips without any jerks. Generally, all fluid heads have basic controls like pan lock and tilt lock. Some advanced ones like the Sachtler Ace series have spring-loaded counterbalance adjustment and dampening knob.Damping effect is like the resistance you feel while swimming or like the air which hits you while running. This feature is essential for capturing great silky footage. The amazing footage which you watch on Nat Geo, etc are a result of this amazing equipment. These heads attach to the tripod using a bowl leveler or a simple base plate. Bowl levelers allow you to level the camera individually incase the legs are placed on an even surface.
Video tripods and fluid heads are extremely essential for a filmmaker and mastering this equipment may take years of hard practice. Manfrotto, Cartoni, Sachtler, etc all are amazing brands which offer unlimited possibilities with their range of products. Of these, I have selected the most popular and reliable tripods so that you can focus more on learning. Having said that, it is crucial that you do some research about the product which you are gonna buy.
I hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you have any doubts or queries feel free to drop a comment and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.
Tripods For All
This was a very useful post on the best video tripods and I was searching for just this kind of information for a new project that is starting soon in Florida for our company. We are building a small studio for recording training videos and marketing videos (for our use and for client use).
We need to have something more suitable for holding our equipment than what we have now. The three options that you have highlighted all seem serviceable but I think we will go with the last (and most expensive) tripod you reviewed. At some point, we will be upgrading the cameras as well, so getting the high-end tripod makes sense.
As we also are concerned about performance we get out of the shoots, I will come back to check out your post on the fluid heads that you are going to publish. I am interested in getting equipment that will work with a variety of cameras and in a variety of settings (for any shoots we may do outside of the small studio).
Do you think we are making a mistake by opting for the Sachtler model starting out (we do have tripods but they are not suitable for videography, more they work well with photography)? I just think that we are in this for the long haul, and it is better to get used to quality equipment that can perform and stay with us as we grow.
No, the Sachtler Flowtech will do just fine in your case and I agree with you on going in for the long haul and getting quality products. If you have product related queries, feel free to ping me 🙂
So “Video Tripod” is the name! I had seen them here and there but had no idea what they were called. I might just need this to create my YouTube videos. The last camera I wned was from 2010 and am sure I am quite outdated. This Tripod will really come useful.
Thanks for sharing the information.
It’s very informative for me and i think many people who are starting their side business into the use of video camera will find your article beneficial to them too!
I was looking for some good tripod too recently and your article just caught my attention. I will reconsider my bargain on tripod again! thanks!
Always Welcome 🙂
I found this article most interesting. I have thought about doing some videos did not realize that there was a difference in the tripods for cameras and camcorders. I am glad I found this information before I shot my video.
I am definitely going to be looking into one of the tripods you suggested the Velbon. I think that would be best since I am new.
I was just wondering when you saw it is a fluid head, what kind of fluid is in it.? I thought maybe hydraulic fluid but I just wasn’t sure.
I’m not really sure of the kind of fluid in the head, but as far I know, it’s a kind of white grease.
I’m glad you like it.
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I never thought that tripods should be used for a definite equipment such as DSLR and camcorder. I thought you can use it for both. As a teacher, I think this is a good investment for every school since students are often active in joining film making competitions and even photography contests. Getting the right tools and equipments will help them maximize their full potential. Students actually learn a lot from experimenting, tinkering and all that stuff. Video tripods is a big help especially on locations with unique terrains or even a busy street!
I also agree with you in buying a good tripod because this equipment is meant to be used for a long time and for different purpose. Never mind the price because you’ll be surprised to know that pricey ones often last for more than a decade.
You are correct. Letting children explore everything right from the start will definitely help them grow. Filmmaking and photography have immense potential and letting children indulge in them is great!
Glad you liked the post!
Hi! I’m glad you have helped me along the process of selecting a video tripod. Answering the questions: How committed are you? or how much are you whiling to spend? proved to be very useful. After finding answers to these questions, I have discovered that the best option for me is Velbon Videomate 638! Thank you very much for this post!
Great! Thanks for stopping by!